I’m ambivalent about using plagiarism-detection sites, but teacher friends who do use them assure me that they’re invaluable. Yes, we can design their assignments in such a way that we are familiar with all the material that is used for essay research, thereby making it more difficult for students to cheat. However, the biggest temptation is that students will use the same essays previous students turned in. To create a completely new syllabus for each class every semester is insane, yet we have so many students that we couldn’t possible be certain whether or not we’ve seen the same paper before.
Is plagiarism that much of an issue? You bet. Best selling memoir authors are frequently caught in the act, causing much embarrassment in the publishing world. Scientists steal words from each other’s journal articles. Even an assistant in the White House was recently forced to resign for his plagiarizing. Writing is hard work, and the temptations for copying must be great or we wouldn’t see such risk-taking. Furthermore, a resultant grade from such a work is meaningless.
Turnitin just won a decisive court case in which a group of university students sued them for holding and re-using their papers for the purpose of detecting subsequent misuse. Ars Technica reports on it.